Vegetarianism is often synonymous with peace and coexistence. However, there is a conflict raging in the Middle East. The one about the origin of a vegetarian staple called falafel.
What is the origin of falafel?
Falafels are an ancestral recipe whose origin remains highly contested. The less disputed origin goes back to the Copts (Christians of Egypt) who used to eat falafel during Lent, a period during which it is forbidden to eat meat. Moreover, the word falafel comes from pha la phel (Φα Λα Φελ) which means “of more beans.” Other versions attribute this recipe to the Pharaonic Era of Egypt and even India.
While falafels as we know them today around the globe, are exclusively made from chickpeas, original falafels, those from Egypt, are made with fava beans.
In fact, the original name of this dish is ta’amiya. This recipe was supposedly initially exported via the port of Alexandria to northern Levant, and it eventually spread across the Middle East.
This dish is now considered the national dish of Israel, even if it was not invented in the Holy Land.
Falafels can be served on a plate or in a pita sandwich. They are usually accompanied by hummus, tahini, pickled vegetables (like turnips), but also diced cucumber and tomato salad, red cabbage or fried eggplant to name a few standard sides.
I make falafel quite regularly but I have always used the ready preparations until today. For today’s occasion, I have not only tried to make falafel but also Egyptian ta’amiya.
The most important part of the recipe is the spiced mixture which combines various aromas from the fresh herbs (parsley and cilantro), the spices (coriander and cumin) but also the garlic. For those of you who have already had the opportunity to taste falafels in the Middle East, this mixture of flavors automatically transports you to the middle of the souk!
While falafels as we know them today around the globe are exclusively made from chickpeas, original falafels, those from Egypt, are made with fava beans.
- 2½ cups dried chickpeas (for falafel)
- 3 cups dried fava beans (for ta'amiya)
- 1 onion
- 2 scallions (for ta'amiya)
- ½ bunch fresh dill (for ta'amiya)
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon flour (or more if necessary)
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder (optional)
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds (for ta'amiya)
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- Soak the dried chickpeas (or dried fava beans) overnight (or at least for 8 hours) in a large bowl filled with water.
The next day, drain the chickpeas (or fava beans) and mix in a food processor until smooth.
- Transfer to a large bowl.
- In the same food processor, combine the onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro and dill and scallions for ta'amiyas.
Pulse until obtaining a paste.
- Add this mixture to the chickpeas (or fava beans) and mix with a spatula.
- Add cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, pepper and flour and mix well. If dough is too soft, add more flour, a teaspoon at a time, until firm enough to form balls.
- Add baking soda just before frying. Mix well.
Heat a large pan with vegetable oil and bring to about 350 F (180˚C).
- Make small balls about the size of a ping pong ball.
- For ta'amiyas, slightly press the balls on both sides and dip in the sesame seeds (optional).
- Gently place the balls in hot oil without overloading the pan.
- Fry until one side is golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Then turn over and fry on the other side for another 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels.
- Falafels (or ta'amiyas) should be crisp on the outside and soft inside.
Serve hot or warm on a plate or in a pita with various salads and condiments.